2-2 Presentation of MOO & WOO environments
2-2.6 Professional use of MOOs
MOO can be an effective way to hold pre-arranged meetings for people who can't be in the same physical location. It could then become the ideal means of communication for distributed communities of research which main property is not to be able to have face-to-face meetings without carefull preparation and lots of participants travelling. Transcripts of the meetings can be saved and emailed to people who weren't present. Using a MOO in this way is not as time-effective as meeting in reality (if we do not consider journey time), but is less expensive and at least as useful as having a conference telephone call. In many cases these features compensations the relative slowlyness of "typed" discussion. However, Moo communication is not just "typed text". Text entered is revisable and backtraceable, two features that have disctinctive advantages over direct voice communication.
MOO is rather relevant as a coordination mechanism. People tend to announce on the MOO what they are doing in real life. Phrases like "Colin checks the tapes" are commonly seen. Furthermore characters are called "idle" when they do not respond to activities.
MOO may be used as brain-storming or problem-solving mechanism. When the conversation is about a small issue, such as some detail of organization, or how to fix some user's problem, solutions can be reached in a few minutes on the MOO. Traditionally, in research communities, these conversations happen through far slower email.
It is common for someone on the MOO to have a real-life interruption, be it a phone call, an office visitor, or simply being too busy to pay any attention. Thus people tend to become inactive suddenly. This doesn't create a communication problem: whenever they resume, the buffer is there, containing the old conversation, and it can be continued without difficulty.
When many people are in a room, the conversations can get confused and intertwined. One quickly learns to pay attention to the conversation one is involved in, and to partially ignore the others. The use of recipient indications (such as "Sandrine [to David]: I agree with you") solves a lot of the problem. This is, again, something that one adapts to very quickly.
The MOO requires a bit of time to learn. There are about 10 commands that everyone must learn immediately (say, page, look, examine, who, whisper, emote, and so on). Learning to administer a MOO is more difficult and to add innovative extensions even more. Adminstration involves creating or disabling guest characters, building the initial "world" (e.g. a "virtual campus") and porting needed objects and communication features from other MOOs. The inital "Lambda MOO" database is not quite sophisticated enough for professional use. Note however that specialized MOO data-bases for educational and research will be soon available (e.g. from Diversity University). Learning the internal MOO programming language in order to enhance or augment the set of available objects and procedures takes even more time (like learning any new programming language) but this is something that can be done incrementally.
To summarise, one can say that MOOs have several features that make them a useful communication tool for a research communities:
- MOOs are interactive in real-time. When one "says" something, all the intended recipients see it immediately. They can answer in the amount of time it takes to type their answer..
- MOOs have multi-channel communication features. One can communicate to different people over different channels (e.g. one can hold an intensive discussion in a room, listen to the "chatter" on a "CB" channel, and exchange "pages" with people in other location..
- MOOs can be used as non-intrusive cooperation tool, i.e. unlike phone calls, one can deal with a "request" when available.
- MOOs also have asynchronous features. They have an internal e-mail and news facilities. Furthermore, many messages can be written on virtual notes or bulletin boards.
- MOOs are multi-user capable. A large number of people can interact with each other at once.
- MOOs are a networked service. Clients and servers simply need to be on the same network in order to connect to each other.
- MOOs are extensible. MOO servers contain an embedded programming language that may be used to extend the database of server objects and to create new commands. If the tool is to be adapted to new uses, it must be flexible.
- MOOs are exclusive. Only people who have been given characters on the MOO are allowed to connect to it. This is a crucial feature. In most of MOOs, guests are allowed to visit but their communication and navigation features are limited compared to the ones of registered "characters" and some objects may have a restricted access to guests.
- MOOs, in conjunction with most clients, have a history mechanism. Even though the interaction on a MOO happens in real-time, it can be stored in a file by a client that is connected or recorded by virtual tools especially programmed for this purpose.
VMDL/MOO Report - 17 FEB 1996
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